Ahead of his Lagwagon and solo tour dates later this year in Australia, I chatted to one of punk rock’s godfathers – Joey Cape – about what to expect from his solo act, what he feels is really wrong with the world today and how long he feels like he can keep being the embodiment of all things punk rock.
So you’ve announced some solo dates to accompany your Lagwagon dates here in Australia later this year. Are we really that nice that you wanna stay longer and work harder?
(Laughs) That’s a nice way to put it. I actually do this a lot. Especially when I go somewhere that’s that far away, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity if I don’t stay. Rather than coming out a separate time, you know it’s a long flight. I’ll already be there, so why not. I really prefer to do those before the Lagwagon tours start. But the band has a date in Japan right before we come to Australia this time so it just wasn’t going to work. No, yeah, you are that nice actually.
Correct me if I’m wrong but you haven’t been down under since Hang was released right?
No yeah we came earlier this year with I think the Soundwave tour? What was that January? But I guess that doesn’t really count in some ways.
Oh yeah, of course you did. But no headlining tours…
We haven’t been on our own tour since before Hang was released. This is gonna feel like an actual tour you know. I’m really looking forward to it.
Hang has sure got its differences to your early stuff, but of course all the expected Lagwagon trademarks are there – your voice, Dave’s drums – was it still the Fat Wreck sound you were going for?
Well I mean we were the first band on Fat (Fat Wreck Chords), so we just sound like our band. I mean people have to look at things through their own eyes. I get it, people use labels because they can’t hear your writing. But yeah we’re always going to have that characteristic that makes us us. I know there are some markers in my song writing that I always do. Sometimes we’ll have working titles for songs and they’ll be called like ‘typical Joey song’. In my own mind, every record we make is different, but the differences are very subtle when you have the same four instruments and the same four players. We just do what makes sense to us. It’s very self-indulgent, as it should be I imagine.
The two opening tracks on Hang, “Burden Of Proof” and “Reign”, are very different musically but very closely linked lyrically. There’s also a lot of religious imagery coming through there. Is there something specific you’re trying to say with those songs?
Well, I’m an atheist and that record is a modern expression of how I see things. So I decided to just write about things that bother me. And one of the things that bothers me is the many justifications that have existed for centuries for wrongdoings and war in religion. I forget who said it, but the quote ‘war is just organised murder’ is how I see it. I’m not a fan. And I’m not a fan of religious people having an excuse to not respond to the world they live in.
This idea that a hurricane is God’s will… So those songs are really just me saying how I feel and being angry. The message overall with Hang is an attempt to focus on empathy because I think it’s kind of dying in our world today. I feel that without empathy, we can’t survive. So those two particular songs are sort of an expression of my feelings that religion is far too lacking in empathy.
I think we’re on the same page there. I used be heavily involved in the church and am now far more free thinking, which might be why those songs resonated with me.
You know I don’t have any desire to denounce people for their beliefs. I just don’t like what comes with those beliefs a lot of the time. For any individual who wants, has or needs faith – there’s a part of me that’s actually envious. It’s gotta be kind of blissful to believe that this isn’t the only life you’re going to live, for example, or that there is bigger things at play than you can control.
But either way, I don’t think it’s something you can manufacture. I think you have it or you don’t. And I just have never had it, I just have always lived in that much more vulnerable state, understanding that things happening around me are bad and they can hurt me or they can hurt my daughter. And I’ll just say this, I actually think that’s the way we should all be. I think that even if you have faith you should still be concerned about the harm that is coming to others in the world because that’s what makes change. If you get hurt, that’s how you learn that you shouldn’t do that again.
I’m sure there’s plenty of punk fans out there that have never heard your solo material. So what can we expect from Joey Cape solo shows? Do you do any Lagwagon songs?
Well, I don’t know that my song writing is all that different when I play solo shows. I do play sometimes a lot of Lagwagon songs. Less now that I’ve released a few solo albums, but it’s really just about the song. I just get up and play the songs for people that hopefully know them. I tend to get a really nice audience everywhere I go, Australians are always great because of all the band tours I’ve done there. It also depends a little on who I’m touring with.
There can be some cool collaborations that are unique to particular tours. This will be my third time touring with Chris Creswell (The Flatliners). So we’ll play some of his songs and we’ll play some of Laura Mardon’s songs, she’s from the Gold Coast (also on the tour), and there’ll be a lot of collaboration. We have like one day to throw everything together but by the time the tours’ over we’ll be a machine!
Well we Aussies love a good spontaneous collaboration and we pretty much support anyone who gets up behind the microphone with a guitar, so I reckon you’re safe there.
And you know what, that’s it. It should have spontaneity. There’s something really nice about doing an acoustic show because you’re not relying on anyone and conclusions don’t have to be made collectively as a group like with a band. You can just decide to turn a corner whenever you want.
“Angry Days” (from 1992’s Duh) is probably in my all-time favourite top 5 songs. I first listened to that song at 16 and loved it, but now that I’m 31 there’s a whole other layer to its meaning. Does that ever happen to you with your own music?
You know not really, because I think every song had a catalyst. Every song, lyrically, was written about a specific event in my life and almost always something that was traumatising. Generally relationship things. That one was written about a particular person that I was friends with who really just hated the world and was overly hateful about everything. He started out a mentor of mine and then after a certain amount of time I began to find it frustrating to be around him. So that message doesn’t really change for me. Nobody wants to be around someone who is insufferable. There are times for some negativity, but what makes that okay to feel is also enjoying life.
As you approach the officially ‘mature’ age of 50, does the notion of how long you want to keep thrashing it out ever pop into your mind? Or I am just an irreverent little prick for asking such a stupid question?
Nonsense, you’re not a prick at all! Of course it does, it has for years. It’s interesting because it doesn’t feel any more desperate as the years go by. In some ways it’s like it renews from time to time. And certainly when we made Hang, the way things went with that record, the overall feeling was how proud we were, we love it. And so that was very much a renewal for us.
What is age really? There’s only one aspect of that that has an effect on what you can do and that’s your physical state. As you get older, you’re certainly a little more prone to injury and it becomes a little harder to do the things you used to do onstage. I can’t deny there’s some of the old age mentality of like, ‘you know what, fuck it’ that’s crept in lately. I don’t think I’ll ever write a record as angry as Hang. I was mad, I really went for it with the lyrics. But you know, you can handle the bung knee and the screwed up back as long as you’re passionate.
Lagwagon are touring nationally with The Flatliners later this year. See their website for dates and venue information. Tickets for Joey’s solo shows via Oztix (Perth/Brisbane/Newcastle), Ticketscout (Melbourne, Sydney) and Moshtix (Adelaide).